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Think of the 2001 Toyota Celica as a motorcycle on wheels. It's light on its feet, compact, racy looking, and loves to rev its energetic engine. Heck, you can even equip a Celica with a SIX-speed transmission. We found the Celica almost as entertaining to drive as some of those hyper-horsepower-screaming bikes.
The Celica has all the goods if you're looking for a fun and affordable sports coupe. It's not muscle-bound like a V8-powered Chevrolet Camaro or Ford Mustang, and it's not suave and cool like an Audi TT or Acura CL. Instead, the Celica provides a straightforward driving experience that's heavy on the fun and light on the wallet.
Since the Celica was redesigned for 2000, there are no changes for 2001.
My first impression of the Celica GTS is that it has a high-strung, high-tech engine that loves to run. There's adequate throttle response through about 6000 rpm, then Toyota's VVTL-i kicks in like an on-off switch and the Celica squirts forward with real urgency. The GTS should manage 0-60 mph runs in the upper seven-second range, but the true satisfaction comes with working the shifter and keeping the engine spinning full bore. The red area on the tach starts at 7800 rpm, but there are another 500-600 revs to the limiter and the engine keeps pulling strong, without flattening out, the whole way.
The only problem is that when this engine is turning in the sweet part of its power band it's loud. There's an abundance of intake and valve noise, made more noticeable because the engine feels so smooth.
The GT-S shifter works very well by front-drive standards -- smooth, accurate, direct. The E-shift automatic is equally impressive. E-Shift's shift buttons work intuitively. Pressing one of the buttons on the front of the steering wheel upshifts, while pressing the buttons on the back downshifts. Better still, the electronics do very little thinking for the driver. E-Shift holds its gear, even with the engine bouncing off the rev limiter and shifts sequentially up or down at the driver's discretion. It works as well as similar systems on some of the most expensive cars in the world.
Celica's seats are comfortable and grippy, and the pedals, in both placement and operation, work well. Enthusiast drivers will appreciate the perfectly placed dead pedal because it allows them to brace themselves with their left leg during energetic drives.
One of the best things about the Celica GT-S is that it corners nicely, and relatively flat, without a harsh, small-coupe ride. The upgrade 16-inch tires are sticky. Steering is quick and accurate, and the feel through the wheel gives a good idea how much grip is left in the front tires. The Celica GT-S tightens its path through a curve when its driver lifts from the gas, and it takes the harshest, most abrupt maneuvers to unsettle its rear end. Overall, it gets high marks for chassis tuning.
Celica also gets high marks for build quality; there were no creaks or rattles in the unitbody or trim panels. In all, the 2001 Celica makes a well-balanced, sporting coupe. With the exception of the peaky GT-S engine, no particular component stands out, yet it all blends together very nicely.
The same thought applies to the base GT, which we've sampled as well. Its tires aren't as grippy as the upgrades, and its 1.8 four is not as smooth. Yet there's just as much torque through three quarters of the engine's rev range, and unless you're constantly pushing the tach needle into the red zone, you might never notice the difference.
There was a time when the mid-priced coupe market was one of the hottest in the auto industry--when automakers, including Toyota, offered 200-plus horsepower turbocharged engines, all-wheel drive and other high-tech performance gadgets. Yet coupe sales have declined steadily over the last 11 years as buyers shift from cars toward pickups and sport utility vehicles. Some manufacturers have given up on sporty coupes. Credit Toyota for reinvigorating its Celica.
There's a solid sporty coupe beneath the Celica's new-wave skin. Potential buyers taken by the edgy styling will get more than enough car to go with the looks.